In May 2021, most commentators focused on the council elections (Labour did very poorly) and the Mayor elections (in which Labour did well). But one set of elections was barely discussed: the elections for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs). And that’s a shame, because the results were interesting.
What are PCCs?
Police and Crime Commissioners (or Police, Fire and Crime Commissioners in a few areas) are directly-elected positions that were introduced by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition government in 2012. They oversee the work of police forces in England and Wales, hold the Chief Constable in each policing area to account and produce a Police and Crime plan. They replaced the existing Police Authorities. Scotland does not have PCCs, as policing is devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
In the past, turnout for PCC elections has been very low. The first elections for the PCCs were held in November 2012, and resulted in a turnout of just 15.1% (18.3% if the London Mayoral election, is included). Even the 2016 elections, held alongside local elections in many areas, resulted in a turnout of just 26%.
Currently, 39 of the 43 territorial policing areas in England and Wales are overseen by PCCs. In Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and Greater London, the directly-elected Mayor’s responsibilities are combined with that of a PCC. In the City of London, the local authority retains the responsibilities of a Police Authority.
Previous election results
Following the May 2016 and May 2017 elections, the Tories oversaw 20 police areas, Labour 17, Plaid Cymru oversaw two and three PCCs were independents.
However, these areas are different sizes; South Wales, for instance, contains 500k people compared to Greater London’s 10 million. In terms of population, therefore, in May 2017, the figures were as follows:
The May 2021 elections
The table below shows the combined results of the May 2021 elections for PCCs and Mayors with PCC responsibilities (London, Manchester and West Yorkshire).
Following the 2021 elections, the numbers in terms of population were:
The outcome of the 2021 elections, therefore, is that nearly 6 in 10 people in England and Wales now live in policing areas that are overseen by a Conservative PCC.
Outside of London, that number rises to 7 in 10.
Another notable aspect of these elections was the increase in turnout.
In the 2021 elections, 15.2 million votes were cast, a turnout of 35.1% (+5.7pts).
Outside of London, turnout rose from 26.9% to 34.0% (+7.1pts).
Turnout ranged from 50.6% in Gwent (+1.7pts) to 22.9% in Humberside (+0.8pts)
The decline of independent candidates
When the first elections were held in 2012, independent candidates won 11 of the 41 police areas and won 1.3 million votes (23.1%). In 2021, however, no independent candidates were elected at all, and just 4% of voters supported independent candidates across England and Wales.
The next PCC elections are due to be held in 2024, and will be notable for two reasons.
Firstly, the Conservatives’ term in office is due to end in 2024, so the next PCC elections are expected to take place alongside a general election. This will result in a significantly higher turnout.
Secondly, the Conservatives have pledged to abolish the Supplementary Vote (SV) system that is currently used to elect PCCs. In 2021, the Conservatives won the most preferences in 32 police areas, but only won 30 seats once second preferences were counted.
Both of these differences mean that the next PCC elections are very unpredictable.